You can't
say that
to me!


"Can't you do anything right?" "I can't believe you would feed that junk to your child!" "What is this? And don't tell me it's a casserole, I already know that." "If you really cared about me, you wouldn't behave this way."

Sound familiar? Each of us occasionally feels the sting of very unpleasant language from those who are closest to us -- spouses, employers, friends, relatives. But frequent and repeated use of unanswerable questions, scalding accusations, sarcasm, insinuations, and even icy silence is more than simply unpleasant; it is abusive, destructive and frequently leads to escalating arguments and physical violence.

Suzette Haden Elgin, creator of the "Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense," has developed a unique and revolutionary way to break the cycle of verbal violence and eliminate it from your life -- without ruining your marriage, risking your job, or alienating friends or loved ones. Dr. Elgin shows you how to neutralize verbal attacks and discourage future abuse with:

  • An 8-step program that helps you recognize the patterns of verbal abuse
  • Specific language techniques that enable you to avoid escalating arguments and break the cycle of abuse using skills you already possess
  • Questionnaires and diaries that help you analyze abusive situations, evaluate your responses to them, and track your progress
In this book Dr. Elgin proves that verbal abuse is not caused by human nature, but by language. She helps you discover that you are an expert in your own language, already highly qualified to solve this problem for yourself, quickly and forever.

[from the back cover]

Elgin, You Can't Say that to Me: Stopping the Pain of Verbal Abuse -- An 8-Step Program

About the Author

Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D., is an expert in applied psycholinguistics and the founder of the Ozark Center for Language Studies. She is the author of eight "Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense" titles, including Genderspeak: Men, Women, and the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, also published by Wiley. She lives with her family near Huntsville, Arkansas.

[from the back cover]

Table of Contents

How To Use This Book  xv
      Why Do We Put Up with It?   3
      Your Personal Verbal Abuse Survey   6
Step 1:
   Recognizing the Source of the Problem   9
      Scenario One   9
      What's Going On Here?  11
      What Goes Wrong -- And Why  13
      What to Do about It: Using Miller's Law  17
      Dialogues for Analysis  19
      Another Look at Scenario One  21
      Step 1 Backup  25
      Sight Bites  29
Step 2:
   Recognizing the Source of the Solution  31
      Scenario Two  31
      What's Going On Here?  32
      The Basics -- Defining Our Terms  34
      What to Do about It: Awareness  43
      Another Look at Scenario Two  49
      Step 2 Backup  52
      Sight Bites  54
Step 3:
   Recognizing That You Already Have Everything You
   Need to Put an End to Verbal Violence in Your Life
      Scenario Three  56
      What's Going On Here?  58
      The Grammar of Verbal Violence  67
      What to Do about It: Choosing Your Communication
      Another Look at Scenario Three  71
      Step 3 Backup  75
      Sight Bites  80
Step 4:
   Recognizing That You Are an Expert in Your
      Scenario Four  81
      What's Going On Here?  83
      You Are an Expert in Your Language  85
      What to Do about It: Giving Up the Myths about
      Verbal Abuse
      Another Look at Scenario Four  91
      Step 4 Backup  95
      Sight Bites 102
Step 5:
   Understanding the Two Goals of Verbal Self-
      Scenario Five 104
      What's Going On Here? 106
      Why It Matters: The Link between Verbal and
      Physical Violence
      What to Do about It: Recognizing Abusive
      Another Look at Scenario Five 116
      Step 5 Backup 119
      Sight Bites 122
Step 6:
   Deciding Never to Participate in Verbal
   Violence--And Following Through
      Scenario Six 125
      What's Going On Here? 127
      The Problem of Following Through 129
      What to Do about It: Dealing with English Verbal
      Attack Patterns
      Another Look at Scenario Six 140
      Step 6 Backup 143
      Sight Bites 146
Step 7:
   Maintaining Your Own Healthy Language
      Scenario Seven 147
      What's Going On Here? 148
      Language Behavior Is Contagious 149
      What to Do about It: Using the Satir Modes 151
      Another Look at Scenario Seven 160
      Step 7 Backup 162
      Sight Bites 167
Step 8:
   Taking Responsibility for Your Own Language--
   And Its Consequences
      Scenario Eight 168
      What's Going On Here? 169
      What to Do about It: Taking Responsibility 171
      One More Technique: Following the Language
      Traffic Rules
      Another Look at Scenario Eight 177
      Step 8 Backup 182
      Sight Bite 183
Conclusion 185
      The Unifying Metaphor in Verbal Abuse 186
      What to Do about It 186
      Sight Bites 192
Bibliography 193
Index to Backup Material 203
Index 205

[from the softbound edition]


How the Eight Steps Are Structured
Each chapter presents one of the eight steps and has the following structure:
  • A scenario that shows ordinary people involved in abusive language interactions: husband and wife, parent and child, doctor and patient, teacher and student, mother and daughter-in-law, employer and employee.
  • An analysis of the scenario that makes the basis for the conflict clear. And because the people involved in verbal confrontations rarely agree on what they are really about, the analysis includes the personal veiwpiont of each of the characters in the scenario.
  • One or more language techniques specifically designed to deal with the conflict shown in the scenario.
  • A return to the scenario, to show how use of the technique just introduced would have changed it for the better.
  • A set of backup exercises and activities, plus carefully chosen quotations--Sight Bites--from various sources, to help you put all of this information to use in your own life.

You Can't Say that to Me:
Stopping the Pain of Verbal Abuse -- An 8-Step Program

page vii

One of the first and most basic steps we can take to avoid misunderstanding and hostility, either in brief encounters or in chronic difficult situations, is to put into practice a rule known as Miller's Law.

In order to understand what another person is saying,
you must assume that it is true and
try to imagine what it could be true of.
(G. Miller 1980, p. 46)

That is: Assume--not accept, just assume--that the other person's words are true, and try to imagine what they could be true of. In what kind of reality would they be true? What would be happening? What else would have to be true if they were true?

You Can't Say that to Me:
Stopping the Pain of Verbal Abuse -- An 8-Step Program

pages 17-18

Many strategies that have been proposed for dealing with verbal abuse in a relationship actually feed the hostility and make it grow. These results have misled people, causing them to conclude that because those methods don't work, nothing will.

It's unfortunate that many of the methods taught for dealing with verbal abuse actually make it worse; that's not what the writers and teachers intended to have happen. The problem is that their methods are based not on contemporary linguistic science but on folklore, outdated concepts and misconceptions. Look at the following quotation, which is the closing sentence from a story about verbal abuse in the October 12, 1992, issue of Newsweek magazine:

More often than not...a truce will fail to hold,
and the only way for the verbal victim to become the
victor is to have the last word: goodbye.
(Jean Seligmann et al., "The Wounds of Words," p. 92)

This is typical; and it shows that the basic facts about verbal abuse are still not understood. As long as the communication goal in a relationship is to establish one person as the "victor" (winner) and the other as the loser, no positive change is ever going to be possible. This crucial misunderstanding of the facts makes the best-intentioned attempts to teach techniques for change useless, and the result is a series of failures which support the myth that nothing can be done.

You Can't Say that to Me:
Stopping the Pain of Verbal Abuse -- An 8-Step Program

pages 65-66

[from the softbound edition]

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Stopping the Pain of Verbal Abuse --
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Stopping the Pain of Verbal Abuse -- An 8-Step Program

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Other Books by
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Learn more about these books also written by Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D.:

Genderspeak: Men, Women, and the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense

How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable: Getting Your Point Across With the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense

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